Friday 18 August 2017

On August 16, 2017, on behalf of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Assateague Coastkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and more than 70 organizations, representing thousands of businesses and citizens, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) submitted comments asking the Trump Administration to reject offshore drilling in the Atlantic. SELC released this statement:

The comments said “Opening the Atlantic to offshore oil and gas drilling poses a direct threat to the fragile and unique ecosystems of the southeast coast and to the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on our clean coastal resources.”

The comments specifically argue against offshore drilling in the Southeast because:

  • Coastal communities and governors in the region strongly oppose drilling on the coast;
  • Drilling would harm the tourism and ocean economies along the coast;
  • Drilling would threaten unique and sensitive shorelines, valuable salt marshes, barrier islands, productive marine habitats and fisheries, and numerous areas designated for state and federal protection;
  • Drilling would conflict with many important uses for these ocean areas, including Department of Defense and NASA operations, commercial and recreational fisheries, and renewable energy development;
  • Chronic pollution and the risk of catastrophic oil spills, especially given the lax oversight and regulatory environment, present too great of a threat to the Atlantic coast;
  • The oil and gas industry’s economic projections are based on faulty assumptions that overestimate jobs and income, while discounting the existing tourism- and recreation-based economies; and
  • The United States should invest in and develop clean, renewable energy sources instead of wasting resources on developing dirty energy sources.

“There is overwhelming opposition to drilling from coastal communities, elected officials across the political spectrum, local businesses, and commercial and recreational fishing groups,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “These individuals, communities, and businesses have recognized that the risks of drilling outweigh any potential benefits. We will not gamble with our coast.”

Today’s comments come after President Trump signed an executive order in April reopening the issue of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, among other areas. At the same time, the Trump administration is clearing the way for offshore drilling by fast tracking the process for approving seismic testing to identify offshore oil and gas deposits. Even before drilling is underway, seismic blasting is likely to cause significant harm to marine mammals like the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the bottlenose dolphin, as well as commercially valuable fisheries.  

Almost 130 East Coast cities and towns, including Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Savannah, and hundreds of businesses, trade groups, and tourism associations have passed resolutions opposing Atlantic drilling and seismic testing.  Most recently, Virginia Beach and Norfolk joined the opposition, passing anti-drilling resolutions that reversed their earlier support.  Republican and Democratic elected representatives at the state and federal level have voiced opposition to drilling off the Atlantic coast, including North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.

In March of 2016, the Obama Administration decided to scrap a controversial plan to open the Southeast coast to industrial oil and gas drilling for the first time, a move that would dramatically change coastal communities and jeopardize coastal economies. The Southeast coast is built around a thriving tourism industry that attracts visitors from around the world to the pristine beaches, picturesque coastal communities, and beautiful waters that could be devastated with a single major oil spill. Even without a catastrophic accident, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, and traffic—would irreparably change coastal communities and the thriving tourism economy.

To read a full copy of the comments, please click here.

Alarmed with the Potential Detriment to the Environment, Coalition Calls for Assessment, Rejection of TransCanada’s Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project

Baltimore, MD — On Tuesday August 8, a letter signed by 18 state and local environmental organizations was delivered to Secretary Ben Grumbles of the Maryland Department of the Environment. The signatories demand that MDE use its authority to conduct a thorough evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project pipeline. The letter suggests that once MDE diligently carries out its obligation to Marylanders to examine the full impacts, the agency will see no other option than to reject the proposed pipeline project. The letter asserts that MDE will find rejecting the project will be the only way to protect the health of Maryland’s waterways and communities.

This four-mile pipeline would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, and would travel through Maryland, just west of Hancock. The proposed path of the pipeline crosses directly under the C&O Canal and the Potomac River, the primary drinking water source for more than 6 million people.

The letter asks:

We urge MDE not to rush through its review of this Project. Protection of Maryland’s streams, rivers, and wetlands is too important to place at risk. MDE must take the time needed to ensure it has all necessary information, review that information, give the public an opportunity to thoroughly review and comment on the information at a public hearing, and then conduct a thorough and transparent analysis of the significant potential impacts of the Project on critical water crossings and all related upland and downstream activities.

Overwhelming scientific evidence, along with the recent § 401 certification denials for two proposed pipeline in New York State, confirm the inherent public health and environmental dangers with pipelines and associated infrastructure. This Project will likely have significant adverse impacts on water quality, aquatic habitat, and public health, especially when considered together with the cumulative impacts of the proposed Mountaineer Gas pipeline in West Virginia. Yet Maryland will not gain any benefits from the pipeline’s construction and operation. If MDE cannot impose conditions adequate to minimize these impacts, it should consider denying the application. Given the recent concerns and problems using HDD to construct pipelines in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the unique geologic features present in this Project, we are gravely concerned that no set of conditions will be adequate. We firmly believe that, once MDE conducts its required § 401 certification analysis in the proper, comprehensive manner dictated by the Clean Water Act, it will ultimately conclude that certification for this Project is not warranted.

Signatories of the letter include:

AMP Creeks Council

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility

Clean Water Action

Earthworks

Food & Water Watch

Howard County Climate Action

Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association

Maryland Conservation Council

Maryland Environmental Health Network

Maryland Sierra Club

Nature Abounds

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Savage River Watershed Association

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper

Waterkeepers Chesapeake

We Are Cove Point

 

Contacts: Denise Robbins, CCAN, denise(at)chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-396-2022

Phillip Musegaas, PRKN, 202-888-4929, phillip(at)prknetwork.org

FULL LETTER

 

EPA’s Action to Delay Protections Means Dire Local Impacts & Is Illegal

Waterkeepers Chesapeake strongly oppose EPA’s proposal to delay compliance deadlines for the Steam Electric Effluent Limitations and Guidelines (ELG), which became final in November 2015 and went into effect at the beginning of 2016. EPA should immediately reinstate all compliance deadlines for the 2015 ELG rule. EPA should also notify state permitting authorities and power plant utilities that the ELG rule is in effect and must be implemented according to the compliance deadlines outlined in the 2015 rule, which already allow utilities plenty of time to come into compliance.

“By allowing toxic pollutants from power plants, such as toxic metals, arsenic, selenium, and lead, into our waterways there will be a tremendous impact on our entire region. Our waterways, communities and children will be irreversibly harmed if EPA delays the compliance deadlines of the ELG rule,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

Prior to being finalized in 2015 these standards had not been updated since 1982, despite the fact that coal-burning power plants and other steam electric power plants are THE largest toxic water polluters in the country, responsible for approximately 30% of all toxic pollution dumped into surface waters by industries regulated under the Clean Water Act. The 1982 rules didn’t place limits on toxic pollutants in power plant discharges. Delaying the new toxic water pollution protections sets us back three and a half decades.

The Delay Has Dire Local Impacts

In June, the Trump administration proposed delaying the compliance dates, explaining they would be postponed until the EPA “completes reconsideration of the 2015 rule,” a rule that took years to draft, with several opportunities for public review and input. After the short 30-day comment period ended, the EPA held one public hearing on July 31st in Washington, DC, only after environmental groups demanded it. Phillip Musegaas from Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Angela Haren, Gunpowder Riverkeeper Theaux LeGardeur and Betsy Nicholas gave testimony highlighting how since the EPA proposed the delay in complying with the guidelines, some states and utilities have pulled back on preparing to limit the amount of toxins in their wastewater. Utilities that were planning to clean up polluting facilities are now putting those plans on hold while they wait to see the fate of the rule.

  • Dominion Energy Virginia’s Chesterfield Power Station, located on the James River near Richmond, adjoins the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, a popular site for fishing, swimming, hiking, and other recreational activities. Wastewater from the coal ash ponds and other waste streams at Chesterfield discharge into Farrar Gut, part of the conservation area. The state permitting agency relied on the ELG Rule in its decision to reissue the Chesterfield VPDES permit, and significant resources have already been expended at Chesterfield to ensure compliance with the ELG Rule within the prescribed deadline. The feasibility of compliance is already well established at Chesterfield and any further delay in enforcing the ELG Rule’s provisions, including any weakening of the standards themselves, would be harmful to the public and to the environment surrounding the plant.

  • In Maryland, NRG’s Dickerson and Morgantown coal power plants on the Potomac River and Chalk Point on the Patuxent River are under a federal court settlement which requires these plants to comply with the new ELG limits on mercury, arsenic and selenium. Once EPA stayed the deadlines for these limits, Maryland regulators quickly walked back their commitment and will not require new limits on these toxic metals until a new rule or deadlines are set. Despite the state’s clear authority to set protective limits on these metals regardless of EPA’s stance, Maryland is cowing to industry pressure and blaming EPA for its failure to protect the Potomac and Patuxent and millions of people who depend on these rivers for clean drinking water. This is what happens when EPA removes the “floor” of environmental protection - states are unwilling to take up the fight in the absence of EPA leadership.

  • Along the Patuxent River, communities are faced with severe environmental justice issues due to coal waste and coal by-products. In Waugh Chapel near Crofton, MD, residents have been drinking bottled water for years because Constellation Energy and its contractors poisoned their well water and then the coal pit was “capped” with a commercial shopping center, which of course gave a fresh profit windfall to the folks responsible for that toxic mess. Further south, is Chalk Point power plant operated by NRG where in 2000 the plant flooded thousands of gallons of bunker fuel oil into the river, which was blown by hurricane force winds downriver, essentially killing what remained of one of the most productive shellfish areas in the state. Today Chalk Point’s coal ash goes into nearby rural Brandywine where the company’s discharge reports indicate they have managed to contaminate the groundwater at fifty times the Federal drinking water standard for cadmium, arsenic and selenium with its coal byproducts also leaching into nearby Mattaponi Creek---a significant sub-tributary of the Patuxent River. Moreover, the Brandywine coal waste site has rarely been in legal compliance over the past two decades with the waste haphazardly piled up in mounds. The dust from those mounds of coal dust blowing on windy days in great black/gray clouds into the surrounding neighborhood where researchers claim that you can likely find coal dust in the vacuum cleaner bags located in people’s homes. The legacy of coal waste in the Patuxent watershed is so egregious it will take several lifetimes to clean up the mess with an unknown toll of human health. 

  • In the Baltimore area, the C.P. Crane power plant (now owned by Middle River Power) continues to request leniency regarding wastewater and stormwater discharge limits, while parts of the Middle River continue to experience large fish kills from contaminated sediment.

  • ELG 23000 stream imageThe upper Gunpowder River has a nationally recognized population of wild trout, and provides drinking water for 1.8 million people in the Baltimore metro area. The lower River has fish consumption advisories and various impairments including PCB’s and heavy metals as it empties into the imperiled Chesapeake Bay. The current ELG rule provides certainty that meaningful reductions in toxic and bioaccumulative pollutants will be implemented and would greatly benefit Maryland residents that work, live and recreate by crabbing, fishing and swimming in these waters.

These are just a few examples of the egregious harm toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants have caused in our region. A delay in complying with the 2015 ELG Rule will mean lasting harm to people’s health and a loss of jobs.

The Delay is Illegal

Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. countered the utilities’ claims that making these investments would cause harm, comparing the harm to industry profits to the lasting developmental harm that mercury has on children. He also questioned the basis for EPA’s hearing, stating: “This hearing is illegal. I know the Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act backwards and forwards. Nothing in there gives you authority to suspend a rule. There has already been a rulemaking that gave us the limits that EPA is now trying to destroy.”

EPA lacks authority under both the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act to postpone these compliance deadlines. As a federal administrative agency EPA only has the authority granted by Congress through statutes.

The Clean Water Act also prohibits compliance dates beyond three years following the issuance of new ELG standards. The intent of the Clean Water Act is to require more stringent discharge limits on pollutants over time to reflect advances in pollution control technologies. Indefinitely delaying compliance standards that have already been issued clearly contradicts this intent. 

EPA’s proposal to delay compliance deadlines is based solely on costs the power plant industry will allegedly incur in order to comply with these new standards, and completely ignores the public health, environmental, and economic benefits of reducing water pollution from power plants.

EPA is expected to finalize their decision on delaying the requirements of the ELG rule in August. Waterkeeper Alliance joined several other national and regional groups who filed a lawsuit to challenge EPA in court if it continues this process of rolling back crucial water protections.